Bill Would Federalize Some Gang Crimes

Article excerpt

In response to a series of brutal gang attacks in his district, a North Virginia Congressman has introduced legislation to bring gang-related crimes under federal jurisdiction.

The Gangbuster Bill by Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) was approved 279-144 in the House in May. It allows some gang crimes to be tried in federal court, imposes minimum sentences--ranging from 10 years to life--on individuals convicted of specific gang-related crimes, allows the death penalty for gang murders and permits more 16- and 17-year-old gang members to be tried as adults.

It also authorizes $388 million over five years for law enforcement efforts to break up violent gangs and creates a statute, similar to the RICO statute used against organized crime, for the prosecution of gang members.

The measure defines three or more individuals who commit two or more gang-related crimes, at least one of them violent, as a criminal street gang subject to the bill's penalties.

The legislation is drawing mixed reviews from city officials and law enforcement agencies nationwide.

The National League of Cities opposes the legislation because it allows federal sentencing for juveniles. NLC's National Municipal Policy states that juvenile sentencing should be a function of the state and local courts.

NLC also argues that decisions regarding the transfer of violent juvenile offenders to the adult criminal court system should be left to state and local governments, that parental responsibility laws are inappropriate at the federal level and that the federal government should not pass laws or regulations that significantly hinder the ability of local governments to develop and implement alternative sentencing programs for juveniles.

NLC is also concerned that if the bill is not fully funded, local governments could have to spend up to $100 million for training law enforcement officers and prosecutors. …